Dinner is a delight. Whoever the cook is, she is a marvel. And Sir Brian’s wine cellar is well stocked with excellent vintages. What with the cocktails before dinner, a fresh glass of wine with every course, and port to follow, Gabriella’s head is quite spinning by the time the gentlemen retire for cigars and brandy in the library. The handsome footman, Martin Dobbs, is very attentive to her, and seems a little clumsy around her, managing to touch her arm more than once while pouring wine. Jane actually reprimands him at one point for not doing his job with his usual grace, and Meadows gives him the evil eye because of it.
The meal is served in courses with a new bottle of wine opened at the beginning of each course. Meadows serves the food. Dobbs serves the wine. The meal takes almost two hours to eat.
- Starter: Melon Glace (Sauternes wine – sweet, white)
- Soup: Creme de Volaille (Riesling wine – semi-sweet, white)
- Fish: Poached Salmon with Hollandaise Sauce (Muscat de Sevre et Maine wine – crisp, dry, white)
- Main Course: Roasted Chicken, Cauliflower with Cream Sauce, Roasted Potatoes, Green Salad (Cote du Rhone wine – dry, full bodied, white)
- Dessert: Carrot Cake with Vanilla Ice Cream (Port wine – sweet, red, full bodied)
During the course of the meal, the gentlemen speak openly about what they are investigating in the disused chapel. McPherson has just returned from Egypt where he was acting as a field investigator for Howard Carter (who in years to come will find King Tutankhamen’s tomb in the Valley of the Kings). In an obscure valley he came across a hidden tomb: The find of a lifetime. Instead of reporting his find to the authorities, or even his boss, he acted with absurd bravado: He packed up the contents of the tomb in wooden boxes, carted them ten miles to the Nile and simply sailed them out of Egypt without anyone being the wiser.
In Crete, he cabled Sir Brian, a man he had dealt with selling antiquities before (Gabriella will assume they were probably smuggled out illegally), and offered him the whole contents of the tomb, unopened for a thousand pounds. Sir Brian agreed, and McPherson has only just arrived with the crates a few days ago. Sir Brian has asked his old Oxford professor to be present as the crates and the tomb contents are opened. McWhirter is an old school friend of Sir Brian’s in the way that Gabby is of Lady Jane’s.
The men are very excited. They have stripped away the shipping cartons to expose the various sarcophagi and other tomb goods. Thorn has made an exhaustive list and reads it aloud at the table:
Three large crates, three medium crates, three small crates and three boxes.
The large crates each contain a stone sarcophagus. One is clearly the main item with much decoration and hieroglyphs, two are lesser caskets.
The medium crates contain: one, a reed boat and a wooden chariot, much desiccated and decayed; two a mahogany and silver throne in fine condition; three a wooden and bone cabinet also in surprisingly good condition.
The smaller crates hold: one, a sacrificial alter of basalt inlaid with quartz and silver; two, three small wooden chests inlaid with gold and jewels; three, a statue of the goddess Bast or Sekhmet in gold and ebony.
The boxes hold: one, seven alabaster funery jars; two, a pair of broken stellae removed from the entrance to the tomb, both densely carved with hieroglyphs, three, various ritual weapons including an axe, a bow and a dagger.
So far the men have done nothing more than catalog their list of treasures. Tomorrow they plan to photograph and open the sarcophagi.
“McWhirter has an excellent camera,” says Sir Brian, “but I wish we had someone who could sketch the items and perhaps paint the sketches with inks to give a sense of what their colors look like. Professor Thorn wants us to wait and bring some fellows down from Oxford for the job, but I’m in too much of a hurry. I want to see what my thousand pounds has bought me.”
Gabriela is initially shocked at the casual theft these treasures from Egypt, but quickly drawn into the lure of the investigation. She asks if anyone is afraid of the curse on the tomb, expecting everyone to know about curses on Egyptian tombs.
The academics were a bit set back by Gabby’s knowledge on Egyptian curses. It would seem that popular literature was not something they paid very much attention to at all.
“I’m sure it’s all bosh, my dear,” said Sir Brian, nodding Miller forward to refill the young writer’s raised glass. “I’m glad you like the wine. We have an excellent cellar. Meadows is very proud of it.”
The subject of ancient curses started a heated discussion between Professor Thorn and Dr. McWhirter. The archaeologist was convinced that the curses were no more meaningful than the lines engraved on modern tombstones, while the doctor had some murky ideas about long term subconscious urges becoming physically manifest. He was unable to explain himself clearly, however, and eventually resorted to pointing out that several men who had entered ancient tombs had died shortly thereafter.
“Bad air,” said Angus McPherson. “It sits undisturbed for two thousand years and all sorts of thingies breed in the darkness – those microbes that French fellow Pasteur described. That’s what killed them. Not hidden forces. No such thing!”
“Au contraire, mon Cherie,” said Mlle. Shires. “I know for a fact that there are hidden forces all around us, part of our world, though we cannot see them. Tonight we will speak with some of them at the séance that Lady Jane has asked for. Then you will not be so sure.”
She laughed prettily to take the sting out of her words, and McPherson beamed at her.
“I for one don’t believe in any of it.” said Gabriella. “Actually, I’d love to be there when you all open the things,” she added. “I’d love to document what you find and possible journal some of it for my next book. You never know what might inspire me. Maybe you’ll all be famous!” She laughed and the meal continued merrily as the conversation turned to other questions, such as the plot of her latest novel and the newest fashions from America.
“I see no reason not to have you observe the openings of our treasures,” said Sir Brian in reply to Gabby’s earlier question. “You have a keen mind, my dear, and a journalist’s talent for observation. If you would try to sketch some of the items as well, I would be indebted to you. But by all means, feel free to join us tomorrow after breakfast.
As the gentlemen get up to leave the ladies for their cigar and brandy, Lady Jane announces that there will be a séance tonight in the drawing room.
“Mlle. Shires has agreed to sit for us, my dear,” she says to Sir Brian. “It’s nine o’clock now. Shall we say ten? I’m sure you can smoke yourselves to death in an hour.”
“I’m quite dizzy from all that wine. I’m going to put my feet up,” she says to the ladies after the men leave. “I know Eloise will need quiet time to prepare, so I’m afraid you’re on your own, Gabby. Do forgive me.”
The other two young women disappear to their own destinations and Gabby is alone in the dining room.
“Is there anything you’d like, Miss?” says a quiet voice from one corner. It is the handsome footman, and he’s a got a rakish grin that makes him look like a naughty schoolboy.
Startled by the footman remaining in the room, I gasp when I hear him speak. “You are a cheeky young man!” I say shaking my finger at him with a bit of a smile. I stand up slowly and attempt to walk towards him and narrowly miss the end table. Giggling at my tipsiness I move towards him. “Mr. Miller is it?” Asking a question that Im sure I know the answer to. Moving closer to him. “For an employee of my dear friend Lady Jane, you sure are a flirt when it comes to her guests. And when I say her guests… I mean me. Where do you get off? Do you think every young woman who comes here deserves to be flirted with?” Moving within a foot of his face. “I see guys like you everyday. Handsome, charismatic and, and handsome.” My tipsiness is not helping me. “I should have the mind to tell Jane to fire you this instant.” Stopping for moment. Looking into his eyes. Then kissing him. Throwing myself on him. He and I almost stumble to the floor. He catches himself on the door jam. I kiss him long and hard, then push myself off of him. I stumble away, walking back to the couch, dropping on it. “Oh god my head. Why did you serve me sooooo much mind. You really should be fired.” Waving my finger back at his direction. “But my god you are handsome.” I lay on the couch, the room spinning… thinking to myself… I have an hour.
The footman stood his ground as Gabriela approached him. There was an amused sparkle in his eye, and he looked at her boldly. As she lurched into him and pressed her lips against his, he kissed her back, passion for passion. His tongue found its way inside her mouth in a delightful invasion. His grip as he held her was strong and she could feel the clean, lean muscles of his body through his uniform. In fact, . . . Oh, my God! . . . she could feel his manhood stir against her own taut body, a caged beast seeking release.
Tearing herself away from him, she found her way to the couch and looked up at him.
He glanced over his shoulder and she could hear the heavy tread of Meadows the butler returning from the kitchen.
Miller glided forward, stooping briefly beside the couch where she reclined to pick up her purse from where she had dropped it in her confusion. Placing it in her hand her smiled at her and whispered intimately in her ear.
“Leave your door unlocked tonight if you would like some more . . . wine, Miss.”
And with that he was gone, striding swiftly from the room before Meadows could enter.
The butler noticed her half swooned on the sofa and seemed concerned.
“Are you alright, Miss?” he asked, stepping forward. “I noticed you did drink a fair bit tonight.
“Shall I have one of the maids help you upstairs?”
“No Meadows, thank you. I’ll be alright. I have to know when to say enough when it comes to Sir Brian’s wine cellar.” I whisper to him as I place my forearm over my eyes. “Everyone has been so kind to me and I have not been very polite in return. Let me just stay here for a moment and rest my head. The room is spinning. If I were to go upstairs, Im sure it would be the last you would see me tonight. I would miss the seance, and that would break my heart.” I say with a sarcastic smile not truly believing in those things. “Before I trouble so much that you throw me out, could you bring me some coffee to help me sober up Meadows? I will forever be in your favor.”
“Of course, Miss. Coffee it is.”
The imposing butler swept out of the room and returned in a few minutes with a silver tray bearing a silver coffee pot, a bone white porcelain cup and saucer as well silver cream and sugar serving bowls. He set these on a low table next to Gabriela and poured out the coffee.
“I will leave you to rest, Miss,” he said. At the door he turned briefly and added, “The other servants have gone to bed, Miss. You will not be disturbed again tonight.” There is a sternness in his voice that makes Gabriela wonder how much he saw of her and Miller before he came into the room.
The coffee is strong but very good. Her swimming head soon calms down and she feels brighter, more capable of staying awake for the coming seance. The slow tick of the grandfather clock in the main hall soothes her and she sips her hot drink, wondering what could have come over her to make her so forward. With one of the servants, no less!